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Get ready for Reality Central

April 28, 2003

At times, reality TV seems to be on 24 hours a day. By January, two men hope to make that a reality.

'Survivors' Tina Wesson and Richard Hatch will be part of the new reality channel.
Larry Namer, who co-founded E! Entertainment (originally as Movietime Channel), and Blake Mycoskie, a contestant from The Amazing Race, plan to launch Reality Central, a round-the-clock cable network focusing on the genre. Investors include winners of CBS' Amazing Race and Survivor.

Reality Central will offer programs focusing on existing reality series, including a news show with promotional clips, gossip, ratings and casting information; a contestant interview show, with viewer questions and a where-are-they-now? show. One show will follow the making of Reality Central.

Foreign reality shows would be presented, as would repeats of popular U.S. programs, which have not proved able to attract sizable audiences in second runs on the broadcast networks.

Namer disagrees with critics who say the reality genre could be a passing fancy.

"There's a huge base of passionate fans. (And)the main audience is 18-to-34," the young adults sought by advertisers, he says. "They grew up on The Real World on MTV. To them, reality TV is television. It's not a fad for them."

Mycoskie approached Namer with the idea, envisioning coverage that is similar to E!'s entertainment focus and MTV's start with music videos.

"My experience on Amazing Race got my attention that this genre is a lot bigger than a single show," Mycoskie says.

He raised the $500,000 in investment money from reality grand-prize winners, including Survivor's Tina Wesson and Ethan Zohn and the first two winning pairs from The Amazing Race.

The network has signed more than 25 reality contestants for promotion and marketing, including Survivor's Richard Hatch and Jerri Manthey; Kevin O'Connor and Drew Feinberg, the bald Amazing Race duo; Temptation Island's Kaya Wittenburg and Marcellus from Big Brother.

Namer and Mycoskie forecast a start-up of 3 million homes for the digital-tier network. They also plan to develop Internet and interactive TV offerings. The pair hasn't yet reached any formal cable deals.

Getting onto cable systems is the key initial consideration for a fledgling network, says Larry Gerbrandt of Kagan World Media.

"It doesn't matter how good your programming is, unless you can get on (cable systems) and somebody can see you," Gerbrandt says.

Analysts say the network could find a niche, but they are concerned about staying power.

"There's a market for it right now. I'm just not convinced this genre lasts all that long," says Tom DeCabia of media buyer PHD USA.

He also wonders whether audiences will watch reruns of competitions they have already seen, but Namer says additional features, such as contestant commentary, could spice up those shows.

Reality Central won't have the luxury of the vast U.S. program libraries available to the Game Show Network and SoapNet. And it's unclear how foreign reality shows will perform, says Gerbrandt.

Rerun rights to hit shows won't cost much, but the network eventually will have to develop its own shows.

"Public taste for things like this change, so they're going to have to find a signature program that people go to consistently," he says.